We Need A Van

I feel a little sad today (or yesterday if you want to be strict about it since it’s past midnight where I am). I’m thankful it’s no longer the kind that eats me up but still, it made me cancel plans and kept me on bed all day. I tried calling my mom an hour ago, at 1:17 AM to be exact, knowing full well it’ll go unanswered because she’s asleep. The mere act of clicking for her name on my contact list gave me comfort.

Typhoon Gorio caused classes to be suspended since Thursday and I don’t have to go to school till Tuesday afternoon. It’s a six-day weekend for me. As usual, I spent it sleeping at 6 AM and waking up at 3 PM. To compensate for my lack of school-related productivity, I saw a play (Caredivas!), tried finishing a KDrama (W), got bored and stopped at episode 8, and watched a couple of great films (Dunkirk! Chungking Express! Arrival!). Now, I’m writing a blogpost. As the saying goes, “idle hands are the devil’s workshop“. Nah, I just miss my family.

Last March/April, my family went to the Bicolandia. We flew in from Manila to Legazpi and went on a road trip from there spanning hundreds of kilometers. Since my parents have always complained about my “toxic” itinerary, this time, we rented a van for four days. Grabe, I think this is our most convenient vacation to date — no rushing since we’re no longer at the mercy of public transportation, they can sleep during the travel time from one destination to the next, we didn’t have to worry about buying too many pasalubongs and bringing a lot of things because we can just dump them in the vehicle, and best of all, we can stop anytime for food! Apart from my sister’s two year old Vios and a Public Utility Jeepney which we lost in an accident years back, we do not own a vehicle. Well, this trip fueled my mother’s desire to buy a Grandia. But we don’t have the budget nor the parking space for that yet.

Anyway, back to the trip. It was also our first time to purchase our plane tickets (instead of relying on my sister’s employee perks) so we didn’t have to go to the airport early to queue and wait for free seats. In my mother’s words, “Ang sarap palang hindi tumatakbo papuntang boarding“.

First stop upon arriving is breakfast! We went to Bigg’s Diner, a restaurant chain well known in this part of the country. The food we ordered were just okay but their iced tea puts other iced teas to shame!bicolllNext stop is Kawa-Kawa hill. It’s famous for its version of the Station of the Cross. After the fifth one, my mother’s stomach started acting up. Me and my siblings had a high time making fun of her and her distorted face which angered my father. In the end, the two of them went back in search of a bathroom. That’s the kind of marriage I want, someone who’d accompany me even if it meant he’d miss the view.bicol (3)Mej out of place.bicol (4)bicol (5)It’s called Kawa-Kawa because the middle of the hill slopes downwards.bicol (6)Beat the heat!bicol (8)Next stop is Quitinday Hills. I intentionally scheduled all the physically taxing activities in the morning 🙂bicol (11)The view at the top. By this time my brothers are getting grumpy because (1) they’re not used to physical activities (2) it’s getting hot and most of all (3) they’re hungry again.bicol (13)bicol (14)The coolness inside Hoyop-Hoyopan cave is a welcome change after Quitinday Hills.bicol (16)It’s privately owned, just like the previous attractions we visited. Pictured below is the area where they held soirees and parties during Martial Law.bicol (18)During the trip, my father always joked that we were travelling with a Senior Citizen because my mother always needed assistance. I really can’t blame her because of all the lifestyle diseases she has and the side effects of all the medicines she takes. Despite being seven years older, Pangs is healthier. She’s actually a living warning for me to treat my body better but I don’t know why I’m not taking it more seriously.bicollllWe specifically told our driver and overall tour guide, Kuya Eric, to bring us to carinderias and small eateries as much as possible because they’re cheaper (with my family’s appetite, the bill can balloon on orders of extra rice alone) and the dishes are what the locals actually eat. I don’t remember the names of the ones we went to but we were satisfied every single time.bicol (90)Sumlang Lake where you get one of the best views of Mayon Volcano. You wouldn’t want to touch the water though. You can rent a kayak or a floating sala set (?!?) for a better vantage point.bicol (19)Big Brothers, literally.bicol (20)We spent our first night at one of the first and top-rated resorts in Donsol, Sorsogon which is Amor’s.bicol (32)That night we went firefly watching along Ogod river. We left the station during dusk. As it grew darker, my fears grew. Only the moon shone and it felt like the trees were alive and we were the only boat cruising. To make it worse, our boatmen turned off the engine because the creatures we seek are sensitive to sound. After sometime, we went nearer the trees and there, we saw them — dots of yellow and green comparable to Christmas lights except these ones are moving! I wouldn’t say it was a breathtaking sight but it was enough to make everyone smile. Whenever their lights became faint, we clapped our hands as if to encourage them to glow again, and they will. I caught one and let it crawl on my palm while the butt shone. Unfortunately, not even my sister’s high-end camera can take decent pictures so I’ll have to relive that scene only in my head.bicol (24)Another good thing about Amor is its restaurant, Kawnkitabicol (22)Where I had the best laing. Kuya Eric explained that laing in this part of Bicol is usually sweeter because of the cooking process. I already forgot the details but it involved something about washing the leaves twice. Also, Kawnkita’s Bicol Express is closer to the version I’m familiar with, complete with gata or coconut milk.

LAING+BICOL EXPRESS+WHITE RICE=I’ll let you imagine.bicol (93)The next morning, we were up early to experience Whale shark watching, probably the activity Donsol is most known for. I’ve experienced interacting with these gentle giants before, in Oslob (I even wrote a post about it). However, the two experiences were vastly different that I couldn’t even call the former “interacting”. I felt guilty and promised myself to be more sensitive about my choices next time.

Unlike in Oslob where the sharks are baited with food so they’d go near the shore for hoards of tourists to ogle over them, in Donsol it’s the other way around. You ride a relatively big boat and travel for hours in search of whale sharks. Aside from the boat crew, you have with you a BIO or Butanding Interaction Officer who will assist and make sure you adhere to the strict guidelines. The Butandings aren’t lured with food. Instead, one crew is on the lookout. When he sees even a shadow, the boat is steered to the location where they expect the creature to pass through.bicol (29)As the Butanding approaches, your BIO jumps into the water with you and your eyes are blessed with the sight of an enormous thing swimming below. If you’re capable, you can try to follow it but I was content with the few seconds of awe.bicol (30) As early as the briefing, our expectations are managed. We were told that we might see a couple or none. Thankfully, we saw three but only after failing once or twice. Sometimes it’s just a miss. You jump in only for the Butanding to go the other way around hehe.

The running joke that time was: “Kahit wala na tayong makita kasi may Butanding na tayong nahuli.” pertaining to Shoti 🙂bicol (31)My sister, who also experienced Oslob, agreed with me. We had less documentation (due to our amazement we forgot to take a video of the huge whale shark) but brighter smiles this time around.bicol (26)Another carinderia, another satisfying meal. My favorite in this bunch is the crab meat, perfect with vinegar!bicol (94)Paguriran Island! Unfortunately, it was low tide during our visit.bicol (33)But it didn’t stop schwes from taking pictures sobicol (35)St. Joseph’s Church in Barcelona, Sorsogon. The residents say that this is the first church built by the Spaniards in Luzon. It’s plausible since the priests might have landed in this part of Luzon first after coming from Visayas. However, the claim is not verified and officially recognized.bicol (36)bicol (95)Sorsogon muna fam, next time na yung Spain.bicol (37)We’re especially fond of street foods.bicol (97)Bulusan Lake which lies at the heart of Mount Bulusan, an active volcano (our visit was sandwiched between two minor eruptions dating March 2 and June 5)! The winding road and abundance of green leading up to this Natural Park is already a treat in itself. Then you are welcomed by the serenity of the place. It helped that we visited near closing time on a weekday so we were one of only two groups present.bicol (38)Schwes and I were the only ones brave enough to go kayaking around the perimeter of the lake. Again, I was uneasy as we moved father away from the station. Halfway through, my arms could no longer paddle so Rons basically did it for the both of us. Love you!bicol (39)That night we stayed in Bulusan Crystal Spring Resort, literally just outside the Natural Park along the highway. Usually, people go to the numerous hot springs in Irosin but none of them were answering my queries and I didn’t want to risk not having prior reservations (wow is dat me) so I settled with this one. It doesn’t have a hot spring but a pool with really cold water and the place is undergoing renovation but our room was spacious and had a working kitchen. The air conditioning was also strong, nothing more we can ask for.bicol (40)Since we were practically deep within the forest (no phone signal for an entire day, what a relief!), we had to cook our own food. Aside from the boiled okra which I didn’t touch, this was one of my favorite meals during our trip. Iba pa rin lutong bahay kahit pa de lata rin naman niluto mo hahaha. And I’ve never tasted fresher galunggong!bicol (99)The next morning on our way to Matnog, Sorsogon for the island hopping leg of our trip, I saw this view and just had to ask Kuya Eric to stop so I could take a picture. All those HEKASI lectures on anyong lupa came back to me ❤bicol (42)Luzon’s southernmost point!bicol (43)Since Matnog is a relatively new tourist destination, the procedures still need improvements though the boat rates are already standardized. First you have to register at the municipal hall where tourism officers are very willing to assist. According to Kuya Eric, there are issues lately about cleanliness, land ownership, and taxes.

I forgot how much we paid but it was cheaper than your usual whole day boat package. We first bought food to be cooked from the nearby market then off we hopped (ang lame, sorry).

We visited Subic beach, Tikling island, Juag fish sanctuary, and went near Calintaan cave (weren’t able to go inside because the waves were too strong). These beaches are unspoiled!bicol (47)bicol (48)bicol (49)bicol (50)My favorite was the fish sanctuary. Just make sure you do not put on sunblock before swimming with the fishes. The place is privately owned and Kuya Eric is friends with the owner so we were given priority hehe. At first, I thought it was a fishery where Tilapia and Bangus are the only species I can see. To my delight, it’s like a really huge aquarium. The owner built this from scratch and is so passionate about this project of his that he even rejected a lucrative offer from a congressman to buy the place!bicol (51)It doesn’t have an entrance fee. The least you can do to support is purchase feeds, buy turon and other food from the store ran by the owner’s wife, and donate.bicol (55)bicol (52)Someone’s annoyed with her ate.bicol (54)We rented a cottage (forgot whether it was in Subic or Tikling) and bummed around while our boatmen prepared lunch.bicol (58)bicol (59)Halo-halo is perfect to counter the heat of the sun. Of course my mother says 3 Sisters’ is better. I just roll my eyes at her haha.bicol (60)Payback time for the Donsol joke. I want Kuya Eric’s duyan/hammock! He set it up in less than a minute, just tied the two ends on a tree using simple knots. My limited Physics knowledge told me it wouldn’t be able to withstand my weight but it actually held all 90kg of me! Unfortunately, it did not end well. I tried changing my position and forgot to support my back. Before I know it, I rolled backwards and fell, butt first, in front of dozens of spectators who did not even try to suppress their laughters. You know what’s worse? Out of shock and shame, I yelled, “Ma, nahulog ako“. Obvious ba girl?bicol (62)LUNCH. ANG MURA NG SEAFOOD DOON. And make sure you treat the people who prepared your food with respect! Eat with them, if possible.bicol (64)The entrance to Calintaan cave. Contrary to the calmness pictured below, the waves were too strong that day. Heck, why are waves never calm whenever I island hop? Di na nga ako marunong lumangoy e.bicol (68)The bad side. I hope the local government plans long term and actually implements a sustainable waste management system.bicol (102)Back to the city! I had a better view of Mayon during my previous visit so I told my family one of them might be too sinful the volcano refuses to show itself. Joke! I know we’re all rotten that’s why we need a savior hehe.bicol (69)bicol (70)bicol (71)We even went on an ATV ride up to the green lava wall, still to no avail. Kaya nag dab na lang kami. Speaking of ATV, it’s fun but hell on your left thumb and butt.bicol (77)bicol (78)The carbonara at DJC is surprisingly good. The palabok, sadly disappointing.bicol (103)On our last night we stayed at the same place where I stayed before and ate at Bob Marlin. I was excited to let them try the Crispy Pata but it was unavailable haixst!

We let Kuya Eric drop us off at the airport early the next day so he can rest because he’s been driving and answering questions and assisting us for four days. It started raining and automatically, our flight was delayed for hours ha ha ha.bicol (105)We were so bored we finished a bottle of peanut that’s supposed to be for pasalubong. Note to self (and family): must never confuse hunger with boredom.bicollAdding this for the sole reason that I like it. Told you we were bored. And our phone batteries were dying on us.bicol (83)Andddd back to reality! No family trips are planned for the coming months since Shoti is starting Senior High and there are a lot of unexpected expenses this year. Le sigh.

Lastly, Aside from my parents who are the principal sponsors, I really would like to thank Kuya Eric of Mugen Transport for being extremely helpful. I highly recommend him and his company if you’re planning on visiting Bicol (he can even prepare everything — from boat rides to accommodations — for you) or just looking for a van to rent anywhere (he’s been to as far north as Sagada and as far south as Davao). He drives smoothly, is knowledgeable, and a boy scout. You can contact him at +639196061706/+639950169919 or visit their Facebook page 🙂bicol (84)

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